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ND child hospitalized with rare disease found in rodent feces

A child in northeast North Dakota has been hospitalized with a rare but deadly disease that spreads through rodent feces.

The school-aged child was in contact with rodent-infested buildings and contracted Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome, according to a news release from the North Dakota Department of Health. The child was admitted July 4 to the hospital but is expected recover fully, Jill Baber, an epidemiologist with the health department's Disease Control Division, told the Herald Wednesday.

Hantavirus was first identified in the U.S. in 1993. As of Jan. 6, 690 cases have been reported nationwide, and 36 percent were fatal. About 75 percent of those case occurred in rural areas, which serve as prime habitats for rodents carrying the virus.

North Dakota has seen 15 cases since 1993, seven of which were fatal. The state's last reported case came in 2015.

The disease spreads through rodent droppings, urine and saliva, usually by airborne transmission, but cannot be transmitted from person to person, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hantavirus also can be transmitted through bites, though those cases are rare. Researchers believe a person may become sick from the disease if he or she consumes rodent feces or saliva. Scientists also believe touching something that has been contaminated with rodent excrement or saliva then touching one's nose or mouth can cause an infection.

Deer mice, cotton rats, white-footed mice and rice rats are common carriers of the disease.

The greatest risk comes from exposure to rodent dropping in enclosed areas, officials said in the release.

"This case serves as a reminder for people to be mindful of the presence or evidence of rodents when cleaning a house, barn or other building, especially in rural areas," Baber said in the release. "It is important to avoid actions that raise dust, such as sweeping or vacuuming, if signs of rodents are present."

One of the most notable hantavirus outbreaks in the U.S. was in 2012 when the National Park Service confirmed 10 visitors to Yosemite National Park had contracted the disease from August to November 2012. Nine of those were exposed to the virus while staying at Signature Tent Cabins in Curry Village located in central Yosemite, according to the CDC. The other was likely exposed while hiking near High Sierra Camps, which is about 15 miles from Curry Village.

Three deaths were linked to the outbreak.

New Mexico has reported six cases of hantavirus this year, four of which were fatal, according to media reports.

Symptoms typically appear two to three weeks after infection and can include fever, muscle and body aches, fatigue, headache, dizziness, chills, nausea and vomiting, according to the North Dakota Health Department. The symptoms can escalate to coughing and severe shortness of breath.

Those who find rodent feces in buildings should take steps to clean the area by ventilating the space by opening doors and windows for 30 minutes. Residents also should avoid stirring up dust by sweeping or vacuuming rodent droppings, urine or nesting materials. When cleaning, wear gloves, disinfect contaminated areas, use paper towels to clean up feces and mop the infected areas.

The health department also advises not allowing young children to help with the cleaning of potentially infectious areas.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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